Dr. Hilda Koster

The new director of the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology, Dr. Hilda Koster, sees the EAITE moving forward in the spirit of Laudato Si’, with particular attention to the needs and concerns of women, minorities and Indigenous communities.

The Institute, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, was created by Fr. Stephen Dunn to address growing interest in the intersection between faith and the natural world.

“It is a great honour to be appointed Director of the Elliott Allen Institute, which has played such a prominent role in the development of ecological theology in Canada, especially by way of its sustained attention for the work of the visionary theologian Thomas Berry,” says Dr. Koster. “I am very grateful for the important work of the Institute’s founder Fr. Stephen Dunn, C.P., and his successor Dr. Dennis O’Hara. It is a privilege to carry their legacy forward.”

Strong leadership of the EAITE reflects the university’s core values expressed in St. Michael’s 180 strategic plan, says University President Dr. David Sylvester.

“We place great importance on our mandate to promote respectful dialogue on care for each other and for our common home. The work of the Institute helps to further St. Michael’s core values, and Dr. Koster will be an invaluable addition,” Dr. Sylvester says.

The Faculty of Theology is especially pleased to have found someone so well equipped to run a centre known around the world for its groundbreaking research and training, says Interim Dean Dr. John L. McLaughlin.

“Dr. Koster’s appointment as Director of the Elliot Allen Institute is good news not only for St. Michael’s but for anyone who cares about ecological theology as well as environmental and social justice,” Dr. McLaughlin says. “Since the EAITE was founded by Fr. Stephen Dunn in 1991 it has been shining a light on the kinds of issues Pope Francis addressed in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’: to recover our relationship with the natural world while also working for environmental justice.”

The need to examine ecological concerns in a theological light has never been greater, Dr. Koster says.

“Historically Christianity has not paid much attention to humanity’s relationship to the natural world but in light of climate change, overconsumption and species extinction this has become an essential area of theological reflection,” she says.

“Studying Theology and Ecology allows students to make connections between their faith traditions with knowledge of and appreciation for the more-than-human world. Yet ecotheology also will allow students to think deep and hard about the spiritual and moral challenges that result from our human caused destruction of precious ecosystems, and the suffering this is causing to vulnerable human communities.

“The Elliott Allen Institute therefore takes its lead from Pope Francis’ insight that ‘a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor (Laudato Si’, 49)’.  We need educators, chaplains, social workers and scholars who have the competency to work with others to realize a more just and sustainable future for all, especially the poor.”

Born in the Netherlands, Dr. Koster received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees from the University of Groningen. After further study at Princeton Theological Seminary and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, she earned her doctorate at the University of Chicago. She joined St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology in July 2020, with teaching areas of ecotheology, feminist theology, and ethics. She assumes the directorship of the EAITE on July 1, 2021.

Describing the new Director as a “wonderful addition” to the Faculty, Rosemary Boissonneau, Dr. Koster’s research assistant, says Dr. Koster “challenges her students to look deeper and investigate theologically the conceptual frameworks and structures of domination underlying the socio-ecological crises of our times. I am confident that under her directorship, the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology will be reinvigorated to continue its legacy as a vital centre of ecotheological learning and research.”  

The EAITE is a collaborative teaching and research institute which offers a certificate of specialization in Theology and Ecology, as well as stand-alone Graduate Diploma in Theology and Ecology. Its interdisciplinary, collaborative nature brings a range of academic voices from the sciences and humanities into conversation on matters of the day.

The 10-course diploma is aimed at professionals and students who wish to integrate the study of environmental issues and theology in their professional careers, as well as for those who wish to study the theological and ethical dimension of environmental problems. It includes five foundational courses, one in-depth course, two ecology and theology-specifics courses, one experiential course, and one capstone course.

The newly revised certificate is open to anyone enrolled in any of the graduate programs at the Toronto School of Theology seeking to specialize in Theology and Ecology. Certificate requirements vary depending on the program being completed.

“The Elliott Allen Institute will continue to be a place for innovative theological education and scholarship, with attention to the voices of women, minorities and Indigenous communities,” says Dr. Koster.

For more information on the Elliott Allen Institute’s offerings, please contact Programs Coordinator Anthony De Feo or Dr. Koster directly.

The crest of the University of St. Michael's College
Image depicts Dr. Hilda Koster

Dr. John L. McLaughlin, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Theology, is pleased to announce that Dr. Hilda P. Koster will be joining the Faculty of Theology as an associate professor in Ecotheology. Dr. Koster comes to St. Michael’s from Minnesota’s Concordia College, where she held joint appointments in Religion, Gender Studies and Environmental Studies.

“The addition of Dr. Koster to our Faculty underscores the importance of both ecological and feminist theology to the University of St. Michael’s College,” says Dr. McLaughlin. “She will carry forward the groundbreaking teaching and research of eco-theologians Fr. Stephen Dunn and Dr. Dennis O’Hara, as well as the important work in feminist theology conducted by professors such as Sr. Ellen Leonard and Sr. Mary Ellen Sheehan.”

Dr. Koster will teach courses for the Faculty’s three basic degree programs—the Master of Theological Studies, the Master of Divinity and the Master of Religion Education degrees—as well as teach and supervise graduate students through the Graduate Centre in the Toronto School of Theology. In the 2020-2021 academic year her courses will include Introduction to EcoTheology, Catholic Social Teaching, and a new course titled Ecofeminism, New Materialism and Ecological Theology.

She will also help shape the activities and certificate program of the Faculty’s Elliott Allen Institute of Theology and Ecology (EAITE), which was established in 1991 to allow students to acquire a specialization in theology and ecology.

“The University of St. Michael’s College has been a leader in ecological theology through the Elliott Allen Institute. It is a privilege and an honour to further this tradition of visionary ecotheological education and scholarship,” says Dr. Koster. “My own work in ecological theology is done from an eco-feminist perspective. To me environmental and gender justice are interconnected.”

Born in The Netherlands, Dr. Koster received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees from The University of Groningen. After further study at Princeton Theological Seminary and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, she earned her doctorate at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Koster has published articles and book chapters on eco-feminist theology, and edited two books on Theology and Climate Change. The book Planetary Solidarity: Global Women’s Voices on Christian Theology and Climate Justice (Fortress, 2017), co-edited with Grace Ji-Sun Kim, gathers eco-feminist theological reflections on the intersection of gender and climate justice by feminist/womanist/mujerista theologians from both the minority and majority world. Together with Ernst Conradie, she published the T&T Handbook of Christian Theology and Climate Change (Bloomsbury, 2019) to create a dialogue between religion scholars, ethicists and theologians situated within a high carbon footprint context and those representing climate vulnerable communities in low carbon footprint world.

Image depicts Dr. Mark McGowan

Principal Emeritus Dr. Mark McGowan will serve as the Interim Principal of the University of St. Michael’s College for the 2020-2021 academic year, President David Sylvester has announced.

“I am delighted that Dr. McGowan, with his extensive administrative experience both at St. Michael’s and at the University of Toronto, will be returning to Odette Hall,” says Dr. Sylvester. “His presence in the Principal’s Office, particularly in these challenging times, ensures that the academic affairs of St. Michael’s will remain in strong and capable hands.”

St. Michael’s Principal from 2002-2011, Dr. McGowan is an historian renowned for his work on the Catholic Church in Canada and the Great Irish Famine, as well as the lasting impact that the Famine’s mass migration had on Canada.

He has won multiple awards for both his teaching and writing, and is well known for his work in Catholic education, including the history of Catholic education in Ontario. He has served as a consultant to the Institute for Catholic Education. His latest book, It’s Our Turn: Carrying on the Work of the Pioneers of Catholic Education in Ontario was published by Novalis in 2019.

He is cross-appointed to U of T, where he holds tenure and has served as Deputy Chair of the History department (2017-19), as Senior Academic Advisor to the Dean of Arts & Science, International (2014-17) and as Acting Vice-Provost, Students, for the University of Toronto for part of 2013.

Dr. Sylvester also offers his congratulations to current Principal, Dr. Randy Boyagoda, on his appointment as Vice Dean, Undergraduate in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T.

“St. Michael’s has greatly benefited from Dr. Boyagoda’s four years as Principal,” Dr. Sylvester says. “His vision and creativity have led to a renewal of undergraduate education at St. Michael’s, including the hiring of new, full-time faculty as well as the roll-out of our new One Seminars, which are quickly becoming the most popular first-year programs at U of T. We are grateful for his many contributions.”

Dr. Boyagoda will continue to teach the Gilson Seminar in Faith and Ideas for St. Michael’s.

Dr. McGowan’s and Dr. Boyagoda’s appointments are effective July 1, 2020.

A portrait of Dr. John McLaughlin of the St. Michael's Faculty of Theology
Dr. John McLaughlin. Photo by Sheila Eaton.

University of St. Michael’s College President David Sylvester is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. John McLaughlin to a two-year term as Interim Dean of the Faculty of Theology, effective July 1, 2020.

Dr. McLaughlin served as the Faculty’s Interim Dean in the 2014-15 academic year prior to Dr. Ginther’s arrival.

“St. Michael’s is fortunate to have such a capable administrator with a strong familiarity and history in the Faculty” says Dr. Sylvester. “Dr. McLaughlin’s presence in the Dean’s office will help make this process seamless, and I look forward to working with him in this role.”

A professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Dr. McLaughlin earned a BA from St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB before enrolling at the University of Toronto, where he earned an MA in Philosophy. He then studied Theology and Scripture at St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology, earning an MDiv and a PhD.

Professor McLaughlin joined the St. Michael’s faculty in 2002 after teaching for seven years at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia. He is an Associate Member of the Graduate Faculty with the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at U of T, and is a past President of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. He currently serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures and as an Associate Editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly.

Current Dean Dr. James Ginther completes his five-year term on June 30 of this year. After a 12-month research leave, Dr. Ginther, a mediaevalist and historical theologian, will return to the Faculty to teach and conduct research.

Dr. Sylvester has expressed his gratitude for Dr. Ginther’s service over the course of his term in the Dean’s office. “I would like to thank Dr. Ginther for his tremendous service to our community as a member of the President’s Advisory Group and Senior Administration team, in his leadership within the Toronto School of Theology, and in many other collaborative initiatives, including in his field of expertise at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies and the Centre for Medieval Studies,” he says. “I look forward to Jim’s return to campus following his leave and to his renewed leadership at the University.”

Toronto, ON, Dec. 5, 2019 – The University of St. Michael’s College has appointed Lisa Rae its Director, Office of the President, effective December 6, 2019. In this role, she will oversee the operations of the Office and support in identifying priority issues, facilitating planning and driving project-based initiatives across the University. Rae brings a wealth of policy, operations, communications, and management experience from working both inside and outside of local and provincial government.

Most recently, Rae was Director of Operations and Senior Policy Advisor in the Minister’s Office for Advanced Education and Skills Development, where she worked collaboratively to help set the strategic direction for the office to support the Minister and the government. She was also responsible for delivering key policy priorities including the transformation of the Ontario Student Assistance Program and the introduction of legislation recognizing Indigenous Institutes. Prior to that, Rae was at the Council of Ontario Universities, where she provided project management, policy support and direction to many working groups and committees of senior leaders from universities.

“I’m passionate about higher education and the role that universities play both inside and outside the classroom to build engaged citizens,” Rae said. “I’m excited to join the St. Mike’s community and work in an institution that prioritizes teaching the whole person, and I look forward to working with all members of the St. Mike’s community and the University of Toronto.”

“St. Michael’s is delighted to welcome Lisa Rae into this important leadership role in the Office of the President,” St. Michael’s President David Sylvester, PhD said. “Her background in strategic leadership and stakeholder engagement will be invaluable as we continue to deepen our relationships and pursue new opportunities with community and educational partners locally and globally.”

-30-

About the University of St. Michael’s College

St. Michael’s College was founded in 1852 in partnership with the Congregation of St. Basil in Annonay, France, and became an official Federated College in the University of Toronto in 1910. It remains a centre of Catholic thought, and inspires socially conscious and intellectually engaged students through its undergraduate programs, its graduate Faculty of Theology and its Continuing Education division.

For more information, please contact:

Martyn Jones
Office of Communications
University of St. Michael’s College
(416) 926-2291
martyn.jones@utoronto.ca